Tuesday, April 17

Don't Shoot Willie, We're Republicans!

image - Wikipedia
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1945, the Battle of Okinawa, code-named "Operation Iceberg", was raging in the Pacific Ocean. One of the ships participating in the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific War was a destroyer named the USS William D Porter. She acquitted herself well in the battle, firing over 8500 shells and downing five enemy aircraft. But this story is about all the other things that happened in the history of the ship that came to be known as the "Willie Dee."

You see, the ship made quite a lot of history before being sunk by  enemy aircraft, from below the ocean surface. (Huh? more on that later) But it's the history she didn't make that is of such interest.

It was in November 1943, the Willie Dee was an escort ship in a convoy that included the massive USS Iowa battleship which was carrying President Franklin D Roosevelt and the joint chiefs of staff. They were on the way to meet with US allies at Tehran. The President decided he wanted to see the ships in action and called for some exercises to be held. Weather balloons were released for target practice and the guns were fired for the President's amusement.

During the fun, the Captain of the Willie Dee decided to get involved and his hapless crew ended up accidentally firing a live torpedo at the Iowa. Luckily for everyone involved, even though the warnings from the ship were garbled beyond belief, the Iowa was able to make an evasive maneuver and the explosion took place 3000 yards behind the Iowa. So the President didn't die and the wrong kind of history didn't get made.

The Captain and entire crew of the Willie Dee were put under arrest and were lucky that the Iowa didn't blow them out of the water immediately. They actually had their main guns aimed at Willie for a time in case the ship was trying to assassinate the President. You just can't be too careful ya' know!

In retrospect, the whole fiasco was sort of predictable given that the ship had already: crashed into another destroyer while backing out of its slip, lost a sailor overboard when hit by a rogue wave, and accidentally dropped a live depth charge into the ocean, where it exploded, setting the entire convoy off on a wild goose chase hunting for enemy submarines.

Later, on duty in the Aleutian Islands, the ship fired a five inch shell into the front yard of the base commander, which destroyed his garden. After another incident, where she riddled the sides of her sister ship (The USS Luce) with gunfire, she was often hailed by other ships as she entered harbor with the radio message, "Don't shoot, we're Republicans!"

In the end, on June 10th, 1945, she was sent to the bottom by the explosion of a fully loaded kamikaze bomber which somehow ended up directly beneath her after hitting the water, perhaps after her gunners shot it out of the air. If in fact that was the case, in effect, she sank herself.

It's not all bad news though, not a single sailor was lost when she sank three hours after the explosion and only twelve minutes after the "abandon ship" order was given. So there is something to celebrate about the whole story after all.


Today we make a little history of our own here. It's our first ever "15 Seconds of Fame" award, which goes to regular reader Capt. Kevin McCann, USMC (Ret), who sent the idea for this story in along with the excellent article describing the events. Most of the information in that story, along with info from several websites, was the source of the facts found in this post. So here's a tip of the hat, or perhaps a salute instead, to "Cappy" for recommending it.

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